Stabbing of prison officers highlights mental health issues in prisons

The WA Prison Officers’ Union says the stabbing of two prison officers on the weekend highlighted the increasing danger of dealing with mentally ill prisoners.

Three prison officers were attacked by a prisoner at Casuarina prison on Saturday.

One officer was stabbed in the face with a pen, causing a three centimetre gash just under his eye.

Another officer was stabbed in the torso, while a third had hot coffee poured on him. Two of the officers had to be transferred to hospital and have not returned to work.

WAPOU Secretary John Welch said the Senior officer was lucky not to lose an eye.

“This assault is another example of the extremely dangerous job our members do every day,” said Mr Welch.

“The prisoner involved had been assessed as having serious mental health issues and had just returned to the prison after being treated at the Frankland Centre at Graylands Hospital.”

Mr Welch said prison staff had been told that Graylands was short of beds, so prisoners were being released back into the prison system.

Mr Welch said it was his understanding that the Plaistow unit at Graylands had been closed, which had reduced the bed capacity at the facility.

“It is not good enough that people who have been assessed as having serious mental health problems are pushed back into the prison system,” he said.

“Our members are not trained or equipped to deal with these people, and this incident is an example of what can happen when they have to manage prisoners who have serious mental health issues.”

Mr Welch said the prison system was already under significant strain because prisoner numbers were increasing, and having to deal with mentally ill prisoners in an already overcrowded system was putting his members in danger.

“The previous government promised to establish a purpose built forensic unit to house mentally ill prisoners,” he said.

“Clearly this hasn’t happened, and we want the current government to commit to this plan.”

Mr Welch said the government also needed to introduce specific treatment programs into prisons to deal with particular mental health issues.